The National Labor Relations Board on Jan. 15 issued its broadest complaint yet against major transnational corporation Walmart for violating workers’ rights. It says that the company illegally fired and disciplined more than 117 workers, including those who participated in actions that took place in June 2012 to demand better pay and more workplace rights.
According to a press release issued the same day by “Making Change at Walmart,” which is anchored by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union: “The complaint finds that Walmart sought to intimidate and silence workers through illegal activity in 14 states, naming 63 individual store managers and [David Tovar], the company’s vice president of communications. Most troublesome, it shows a systematic policy of unlawful retaliation conceived at the executive level, yet again demonstrating Walmart’s perception that it is above the law.”
If Walmart is found guilty, workers could be awarded back pay, reinstatement and the reversal of disciplinary actions. Additionally, the company could be required to inform and educate all employees of their legally protected rights. Walmart has until Jan. 28 to respond to the complaint.
Walmart workers fight back against corporate greed
The NLRB’s action would not have occurred without the courageous struggle of Walmart workers. Despite intense intimidation from their bosses at all levels of the corporate chain, from floor-level supervisors to the corporate spokesperson, these workers have joined in strikes and job actions in hundreds of cities and dozens of states, most notably during and after “Thanksgiving” shopping rushes in late November 2012 and 2013.
“Walmart workers like me are calling for better jobs for all Americans,” said Colby Harris, a fired worker from Lancaster, Texas, who is quoted in the press release. “It’s not right that so many of us are struggling to get by on less than $25,000 a year while the Waltons have more wealth than 42 percent of [U.S.] families combined. Today the federal government confirmed that Walmart is not above the law, will be held accountable, and I have rights.”
Walmart, like many corporations, refuses to schedule workers for full-time work schedules of 40 hours per week. “OUR Walmart” is organizing around a demand that all 1.3 million Walmart employees get paid at least $25,000 a year, which a vast majority do not earn. Meanwhile, Walmart made $17 billion last year in profits and the Waltons — the richest family in the U.S. — have accumulated $144.7 billion in net worth, which has come from superexploiting and grossly underpaying its workers.
Walmart workers must continue to struggle to make sure that the Board’s complaint gets implemented. Yet, some Walmart workers are winning individual cases in several states. In Kentucky, Walmart rehired an unjustly fired worker, Aaron Lawson, and provided full back wages for the time he was out of work. He had been fired after he distributed informational leaflets and challenged the company’s efforts to intimidate those calling for better wages and consistent work hours.
In California, workers won an important ruling by the NLRB against Walmart for 11 violations of workers’ rights after so-called “Black Friday” worker protests in 2012.
Warehouse workers take action
A federal court in Los Angeles ruled on Jan. 12 that Walmart and its warehouse operator must face trial to determine whether they are liable as “joint employers” for violating the workplace rights of hundreds of workers at three southern California warehouses. The workers filed a class action lawsuit in October 2011. They alleged that those who load and unload Walmart’s truck containers — many of them longtime employees at these warehouses — were routinely forced to work off the clock, denied legally required overtime pay and retaliated against when they tried to assert their legal rights or even asked how their paychecks had been calculated.
The workers are organizing together through “Warehouse Workers United,” a campaign of the Warehouse Workers Resource Center and a member of the Food Chain Workers Alliance.
Warehouse workers in the Chicago area, who are organizing with the United Electrical Workers Union and “Warehouse Workers for Justice” campaign, have also won millions of dollars of back pay for unjustly disciplined warehouse workers, including those employed by a Walmart operator. Workers are fighting for heat in an Indiana Walmart warehouse where many got frostbite while working during the recent polar vortex subzero temperatures.
For more than two years, a rising tide of unorganized low-wage workers have stood up to and challenged some of the largest corporations, such as Walmart, McDonald’s and Bank of America. The unorganized are increasingly uniting with unionized workers in their cities and forming local worker assemblies that seek to unite all workers in the fight for higher wages, dignity, rights and democracy on the job.
In Baltimore, the “We Deserve More Workers Assembly” has brought together SuperShuttle airport transportation workers, employed by transnational corporation Veolia, and is linking them with fast-food, Walmart and public employees. Despite a massive show of airport police, who ejected them from the SuperShuttle holding lot, 35 decorated cars, including many SuperShuttle employees and labor and community supporters, made their way to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport loop on Dec. 21 to conduct a “Caravan for Justice” in support of the shuttle drivers.
“We Deserve More Workers Assembly” will host a mid-Atlantic regional Workers Assembly on Feb.15 to build a fighting program of action. Learn more about this at peoplespowerassemblies.org
As part of the Southern Workers Assembly, workers are forming “Local Worker Assemblies” in Goldsboro, Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C. They are uniting fast-food workers and low-wage public service workers, including city workers, state mental health workers, education workers, and others to challenge their bosses and right-wing politicians. See southernworker.org